Visiting seniors with dementia in care facilities can be scary for kids. They may see people in wheelchairs or encounter people who are talking about things that don't make sense. But with the right preparation and activities, visits to seniors with dementia can be very successful and beneficial to both.
Visiting Seniors with Dementia in Nursing Homes
Before visiting the nursing home, you might prepare kids about what they might see: seniors in wheelchair (both standard style and ones that recline); dementia patients who need help to eat; and medical equipment, such as blood pressure cuffs and nursing medication carts.
You might also prepare kids for what they might hear and how they should respond. For instance, if a person says something that does not make sense, you can tell the child to answer with something basic and affirming such as "okay" or "that's interesting". And definitely tell the child to include a smile when interacting with seniors with dementia. Facial expressions will likely communicate much more to the person with dementia than words will.
Planning Activities for Seniors with Dementia and Kids
Kids often have difficulty talking to even healthy adults. I see my kids around elders at church and it is almost always the adults initiating the small talk with the child. Unfortunately, seniors with dementia may not be able to initiate or maintain conversation with kids and it can be uncomfortable. Bringing along some easy activities that the kids and seniors with dementia can do together can make their time more comfortable and fun.
Simple games can be played between kids and seniors with dementia. Card games might include Go Fish, War, or Old Maid. Standard playing cards can be put in order of numbers, sorted by suit, or sorted by red and black cards. The simplified Numbers and Suits card set makes these sorting and sequencing 'games' even easier. For making words together, try scrabble tiles or the MindStart What's Your Word card set.
Kids Work as a Team to Complete Puzzles with Those with Dementia
Jigsaw puzzles are a wonderful activity for kids and seniors with dementia to do together. Choosing a simple puzzle can be less confusing and more successful for the person with dementia, such as 12 piece and 24 piece puzzles. Not only can they work on the puzzle together, but then they can talk about what the picture in the puzzle is or play a "where is the _________". For example, "where is the baseball?" in a Baseball theme puzzle. You can have some of these questions written down in advance for the child to ask the person when the puzzle is complete.
Books for Seniors with Dementia to Enjoy with Kids
Books offer more great activities for kids to do with seniors with dementia. It can be an activity set, such as simple word searches. It could be a fishing/boating magazine or cooking magazine. Photo books of pictures of kids and and their friends can be fun to look at together - with no expectation for the senior with dementia to know who is in the picture. An older child can lead a simplified type of trivia, using a fill-in-the-blank format to common phrases or songs. Look for common proverbs via an internet search or look at the Finishing Lines and Finishing Lyrics books. One to get you started is "The early bird catches the _______."
Sensory Activities to Try with Seniors with Dementia
Singing familiar song together is an easy activity to do together with no supplies or pre-planning needed. Chances are that familiar children's tunes will be known by both the child and the older adult with dementia, such as Home on the Range, You Are My Sunshine, and Old MacDonald (a fun one to create farm animal sounds to!).Enjoying a favorite food or preparing a simple snack together, can also be a hit. For example, ice cream with assorted toppings to 'decorate' with and enjoy or peanut butter or frosting to spread between graham crackers.
With a little preparation and planning of activities, kids visiting seniors with dementia can be very successful. I have helped with Girl Scout visits and my own children visiting at a local memory care unit. The time spent together was enjoyed by all....and a little bit of enjoyable time goes a long way for the person with dementia.
Find more ideas on activities you can do together with the person with Alzheimer's or other dementia, along with dementia care tips and education, via our e-news messages.